Monday, September 08, 2008

7th Sept 2008: Tanjung Tokong, Penang

The papers this week have highlighted the 'unsightly' mudflats (and accompanying rubbish) that have been building up just off the city's celebrated Gurney Drive over the last few years. Well the rubbish is certainly unsightly, but the mudflats? - that depends on your point of view.

The reason for the mudflats and the rubbish is the new land reclamation off Tanjung Tokong, which has altered current patterns, bringing all the accumulated silt and junk in the bay to this particular corner. The rubbish problem might be alleviated by stringing a floating boom across the bay. The mudflats however, are a flourishing ecosystem, which are, once again, providing a valuable stop-over for migratory waterbirds from the northern hemisphere.

After a day of more or less continuous rain yesterday, I was delighted to see over two thousand waders on the mud today, numbers I haven't seen the like of since 2006.

The rain yesterday had cleared the skies too. It's not often you can see the hills from here.

The large expanse of mud made counting and photographing difficult. Someone shooting crows nearby didn't help much either. The crows were flying around, which in turn kept putting the waders up. A flock of Pacific Golden Plovers keeping a wary eye.

There were good numbers of Broad-billed Sandpipers around, both adults and juveniles. Adults, like this one, were almost black and white in their worn summer plumage (except for the fresh grey scapulars in this case), while juveniles were a sumptuous rich chestnut and cream above. Sorry, no photos!

One might mistake the warm peachy wash on this Lesser Sand Plover for the remains of breeding plumage. However, the perfectly neat ordered rows of pale-fringed new feathers on the crown and coverts reveal that this is a juvenile rather than an adult. The first winter scapulars (lacking buff fringes) can be seen half way back, above the wing.

There were a good number of scarce waders out there today - 3 Great Knot, an adult Red Knot, a juv Sanderling, an adult Asian Dowitcher, and at least 3 (maybe 5) Little Stints, but distance and the fact that the flock was constantly being flushed by the crows meant that I couldn't photograph most of them. It's no good, I'll HAVE to get a digiscoping set-up! This is the best I could do of the Red Knot.

The Little Stints were frustrating in that I was rarely able to study them for any length of time. The first two were both bright breeding plumaged adults, but were flushed by a Brahminy Kite and not subsequently relocated so had to go down as unconfirmed. The third was in predominantly non-breeding plumage. I managed a few distant shots and then later, some a little closer, and I managed to make a few field notes and sketches before it flew. A possible fourth, a bird midway between between breeding and non-breeding plumage, was glimpsed briefly, and then either a fifth or one of the first two birds was finally found feeding fairly close to me. I found that the different body structure was the first thing that stood out, even at some distance.

The best I could manage of Bird 3. This pic, though distant, shows the distinctly rotund body shape, unsquare head, slightly droopy-looking, fine-tipped bill and an impression of a long tarsus. In non-breeding plumage, Little Stint's supercilium tends to disappear over the eye, to reappear behind as an isolated horizontal teardrop.

A Red-necked Stint, though in a very different posture from the above, shows a long horizontal body, a square head, rather thick-tipped straight bill, short-looking tarsus. I like the tussle going on in the background! Incidentally, I have never seen a Lesser Sand Plover take a crab, nor a Greater Sand Plover catch a worm, so perhaps these are reliable identification criteria with feeding birds.

The fifth sighting - possibly one of the first two birds I saw, with a Red-necked on the right. This shows all the structural differences well, and the plumage differences are quite straight-forward.

The yellow tones of the throat of a worn breeding plumaged Little are very evident alongside a moulting adult Red-necked. The difference in bill structure is also well illustrated here.

Sometimes (as here)the difference in leg length is striking, but at other times it isn't. Although the Red-necked Stint has one bright rear scapular, the greater coverts are uniformly dull-brown, whereas ...

...the innermost greater covert on the Little has a nice chestnut edge.

You can just make out the first fresh winter-plumage scapulars pushing their way out under the two black-centred breeding ones near the 'shoulder' of the wing.

The very dark crown and those large blackish-centred mantle feathers are very typical of Little Stint in this plumage, very different from Red-necked in any plumage.

My totals for the day:

Pacific Golden Plover 150 (inc 1 juv)
Greater Sand Plover 200 (ads and juvs)
Lesser Sand Plover 600 (ads and juvs)
Little Ringed Plover 2
Whimbrel 10
Bar-tailed Godwit 70 (all ads)
Asian Dowitcher 1 ad partial breeding plumage
Great Knot 3 ads
Red Knot 1 ad
Common Redshank 300 (ads and juvs)
Common Greenshank 1 juv
Marsh Sandpiper 2
Terek Sand piper 4
Common Sandpiper 10 (inc 1 juv)
Ruddy Turnstone 7
Curlew Sandpiper 300 (ads and juvs)
Broad-billed Sandpiper 200 (ads and juvs)
Red-necked Stint 300 (all ads)
Little Stint 3-5 (all ads)
Sanderling 1 juv
Little Tern 15
Little Egret 2
Little Heron 15

TOTAL 2197

I hope to get back soon when the light is better and the birds are a little less skittish.

No comments: